Car auctions: the insider’s guide

Car auctions

To novice buyers, auction halls can look intimidating. Our tips bust that idea
(Picture © Anglia Car Auctions)

Car auctions offer a guaranteed way of saving money on a second-hand car. However, there’s a catch; because it’s more involved than strolling in, nodding your head and driving out in a bargain, it can be daunting for private individuals, which is why only around one in 10 cars sold by British Car Auctions (BCA), one of the UK’s major auctioneers, go to buyers outside the car trade.

The advantage of successfully bidding at car auctions is that you’ll get a car at what’s known as trade price. On a three-year-old Ford Focus, used car valuation expert Glass’s Guide claims trade price to be £2350 (28 per cent) less than the £8230 the dealer would sell the car for. For a dealer, that’s not all profit as they have to account for the time and money it takes to prepare the car and display it in a showroom or forecourt, as well as market the car to potential buyers. But for non-trade buyers it can be a significant saving. We tracked down Mark Davis, a private buyer from Hampshire who’s bought around 10 cars from auction. Here are his tips. 

Car auctions: Keep a cool head
If you’ve never been to an auction before you’ll notice that the floor can be a bit of a bear pit. It’s also astonishing how quickly things happen and it’s very easy to get carried away. “You need to keep a cool head or you can be swept up in the moment and within seconds – and I mean seconds – you’ll be bidding beyond your budget. It’s the auctioneers’ job to get money out of people and they’re brilliant at it,” says our expert.

Car auctions: Know your target in advance
Auction companies release lists of the cars in the sale in the run up to the event. Study this and note the cars you’re likely to bid on. Although you won’t be able to take a test drive, try to be at the driver’s window when auction staff start the engine of your potential purchase and drive it through to the auction floor. Then you can satisfy yourself that the warning lights are going out as they should. Get in the car too before you bid. Our expert revealed: “I once bought a Vauxhall Zafira and was very pleased with the hammer price (what it sold for). Then I got in it and it absolutely stank of cigarette smoke…”

Car auctions: Who’s owned your target vehicles?
Very broadly speaking, auctions are made up of two types of car: those that have been privately owned and sold to garages as part exchanges, and those that have been owned by leasing firms such as Leaseplan or Lex and run by people as company cars.

Car auctions: Ex-lease car pros and cons
Former lease cars are the safe bet for beginners. They will almost certainly have been serviced correctly and be clean and tidy, therefore representing a much lower risk than part exchange cars. The downside is that some lease cars are put into auction on the dot of three or four years old and require a new MOT. Equally, lease companies don’t always approve services in the final months of an agreement. “If you have to spend on all this once you’ve bought the car, any saving you may have made by going the auction route will probably disappear,” our expert explained.

Car auctions: Give yourself choices
The more cars you see being sold at auction, the more you’ll get a feel for the kind of price various models make in sales. Websites such as CAP Automotive and Glass’s Guide offer valuation services but nothing can beat the real world. Our expert said: “If you pick a sale where there are a lot of the same model going through, you have choices. If you don’t like one price, you just wait for the next car. The more auctions you see, the more you get to understand the right hammer price and what the trade really pays.”

2 comments on “Car auctions: the insider’s guide

  1. Paul Langley March 30, 2016 8:43 pm

    This is some really great advice for anyone planning on going to a car auction in the near future. I had never thought about a lot of these points before, specifically things like who has previously owned the car. But it’s important to know, because that will have a big impact on how the car was used. Thanks so much for writing!

  2. Huzefa Bharmal November 30, 2016 7:13 am

    I just bought a second hand Audi A4 convertible. It was on for 5000 with Private Seller but managed to get it for 4650. Very nice car and so far very happy with it.

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